Mary O’Brien: Fair Trade And My Catholic Faith

Equal Exchange customers and staff, visiting Las Colinas Cooperative in El Salvador.

Guest post by Mary O’Brien, Global Solidarity Leader, Archdiocese of Hartford, CT

“Each year as I look ahead to the Easter Season celebrated in my Catholic faith tradition, I anticipate the Emmaus Scripture Reading. The two disciples, traveling on the road to Emmaus are joined by the risen Jesus, but do not recognize him until he breaks bread with them. For me, the Emmaus reading so relates to how I want to live… to encounter and to be in relationship and solidarity, and yes, it even relates to Fair Trade. In his recent blog posting Peter Buck spoke about the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and Fair Trade. I will add that these principles, especially that of Solidarity, have had a significant impact on how I live and express my faith today.

In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of joining Peter and an Equal Exchange delegation to El Salvador, where, among other experiences, we lived for several days with families at Las Colinas Coffee Cooperative. It was a profound experience I will never forget. It was at Las Colinas that I came to understand and embrace the true meaning of Solidarity, and specifically that of Global Solidarity. Delegations, such as this one to Las Colinas, are often called Mission Trips, which for many promote the idea of going somewhere to work or to help. I smile even as I am writing for this blog when I remember that yes, I did some work while there, but I was of no help to Mr. Sanchez, who taught another delegate and me how to plant coffee tree seedlings. On a normal day, working alone, Mr. Sanchez would easily plant 200 seedlings. The work included sifting through dirt and sorting out insects and worms that could be fed to the ducks, from those that could not, such as the scorpion that I uncovered! So that day, with the assistance of the two of us, we managed to plant 50 seedlings! It was that day also, when I realized that my work would begin a soon as I arrived back home in Connecticut.

Then, in 2014 I became a Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Ambassador for the archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut where I live. Friends and colleagues are tired of hearing me say that it is so important to understand the reciprocal nature of Fair Trade and of Solidarity. When we support Fair Trade we must realize that we are receiving as much as we are giving.

When I purchase Fair Trade coffee, for example, not only am I supporting the livelihoods of the farmers at Las Colinas and other Cooperatives, but I am also receiving a delicious cup of coffee, that I can so enjoy as I read the morning paper. While I’m enjoying it, I can reflect on all the steps of processing, shipping and roasting that brought this coffee to my table. Not only am I experiencing solidarity with these coffee farmer and their families, I am also being given the privilege of living the message of the Gospel. And if I want to take this one step further, and go out in my own, and surrounding communities to promote Fair Trade, the possibilities for building the spirit of solidarity are endless.”

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